A tentative deal appeared to have been reached on Wednesday between Southern Weekly staff and Guangdong propaganda authorities, ending a week-long standoff over heavy-handed editing of the newspaper’s New Year message. But as an unnamed Chinese reporter told The Financial Times, “Southern Weekend [as the paper is also known] is a special case and has always been. A partial victory fought by them doesn’t mean a thaw in the broader censorship climate.”
Even as the deal became public, the controversy spread to one of Southern Weekly’s sister papers, the Beijing News. A propaganda directive obtained earlier by CDT ordered newspapers and websites to prominently republish a Global Times editorial blaming the dispute on foreign forces rather than local officials. Some complied, adding disclaimers to distance themselves from the article and peppering their sites with barely hidden messages of support for Southern Weekly. The Beijing News did not. From David Bandurski at China Media Project:
According to one version of yesterday’s events, The Beijing News received a visit from a Beijing city-level propaganda official after it refused to publish the Global Times editorial, which appeared in many papers across the country (and had been pasted across the internet the day before). The official reportedly threatened to dissolve the newspaper if it did not comply with the central-level order to run the Global Times piece.
After receiving this warning, The Beijing News held a staff vote to decide whether or not to comply with the propaganda order. The vote was in favor of “not reprinting” (拒绝转载). Soon after, Dai Zigeng submitted his resignation to local propaganda authorities and the mood inside the paper was reportedly dismal, with many staffers in tears.
Global Voices’ Oiwan Lam collected and translated online postings on the episode by Beijing News employees, among others.
@宇过天新 Tonight, I remember every one of our tears, remember the unanimous democratic vote against the re-printing [of the editorial], remember the sobbing sound in the layout room, remember every single sigh, remember the sound of the beer can being opened, remember everyone standing still, remember ourcolleagues expectation, remember all the brothers who appeared at the newsroom upon receiving the call. Please remember tonight’s humiliation. Let’s remember all of it.
@刘刚在路上: I will live and die with Beijing News. Old Dai resigned, I will follow him, giving up journalism altogether.
@uponsnow explained what is the meaning of dissolving the newspaper:
The meaning of dissolving is not closing down. It means suspending, purging and reopening. In other words, all the staff who do not agree will be fired and the style of Beijing News will be totally different [when it reprints].
Another comment suggested that newspapers associated with the Southern Media Group, which owns Southern Weekly, had been somewhat singled out over the Global Times editorial. One of them, the Xiaoxiang Morning Post, printed it alongside a large ad for a pest exterminator, according to South China Morning Post’s John Kennedy. Beijing News, when it eventually relented, did so grudgingly, with a truncated version buried deep within the paper under an uneffusive headline:
Beijing News renamed the GT editorial: “Global Times published an editorial about ‘the Southern Weekly incident'” 😀 twitter.com/28wordslater/s…
— John Kennedy (@28wordslater) January 9, 2013
Censors are much stricter with the Beijing News publisher resignation news than Southern Weekend. Impossible to tweet with any variation.
— Li Yuan (@LiYuan6) January 9, 2013
Update: The New York Times’ Edward Wong, who had previously noted uncertainty about details of the Beijing News case, tweets that Dai may still be the newspaper’s publisher:
I just heard that Dai Zigeng is still the publisher of Beijing News. Talk of his departure was premature?
— Edward Wong (@comradewong) January 9, 2013